Monday, September 30, 2013

Steam & Water Mephits

Mephits!  Been a while since we had these guys.  The Bestiary tells us that steam mephits are “overconfident and brash”…which makes sense, really.  Being half composed of water, steam mephits are likely given a wide berth by true fire creatures; even if the Fire Folk aren’t directly hurt by the mephits’ scalding breath and boiling rain, they still probably don’t enjoy it.  Their reluctance likely inflates steam mephit egos to quite unreasonable sizes. 

Meanwhile it likewise makes sense that water mephits are the Plane of Water’s pranksters—acid breath, acid arrow, and stinking cloud are pretty much the Water equivalent of a joy buzzer and a stink bomb…

Water mephits find work as servants, pages, and court jesters in most Plane of Water cities, running errands for marids, undines, and tritons.  However, their natural inclination to pull pranks always bubbles to the surface.  Since they’re not that clever (Int 6) such acts usually involve simply delivering the right message into the wrong hands.  More than one marid house has gone to war (or found itself inexplicably drawn together via a hasty marriage) thanks to the meddling of a water mephit. 

Gillmen settlements are tough places—take the usual rough-and-tumble nature of any port, put it under the surface of the water (where visibility and law enforcement are both limited), and add a bunch of gill-necked mutants into the mix.  The water mephits in these quarters are just as bad—they tend to try to drown (or at least smash the water breathing potions of) any obvious air-breathers they come across.

The baths at Kitara are said to be blessed by the spirits.  That’s...technically true…if by spirits you mean a handful of shikigami, an exceedingly drunk tanuki who refuses to leave the bar on the third floor, and a gang of steam mephits.  The mephits mostly lurk in the boiler, but they’ve been known to scald anyone who complains the water isn’t hot enough.  Notable individuals include Bog, a thief—he especially likes rings—and Merwinda, who tends to get crushes on the bath’s larger patrons.  Many a fat merchant, fighter, or sumo wrestler has found the amorous steam mephit in his bath…and she refuses to take a polite “No” for an answer.

Pathfinder Bestiary 202–203

The music was great this week!  Me…meh?  Anyway, if you like new/good music, download it.

(Music starts about three minutes into the file, so feel free to fast-forward slightly.  If the feed skips, Save As an mp3 and try listening in iTunes.  Link good till Friday, October 4, at midnight.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Star Monarch

Coming from the pages of the Inner Sea Bestiary (courtesy of Jason Nelson), the star monarch is a Huge moth sacred to Desna that plies the spaceways and acts as a guardian of dreams.  No matter what deity (if any) it is sacred to in your campaign, the star monarch is an excellent excuse to get your PCs off-planet, as it can travel the solar system in just a couple of days or even hours (though depending on your fantasy physics, any PC riders might need to come up with their own air supply…).  Should PCs have their own voidship, star monarchs might be benevolent guides, discreet protectors, or simply wondrous random encounters along the way.

Drawn by exotic dreams, adventurers come across an iridescent cocoon the size of a house.  They are greeted by the star monarch within, who promises them a boon upon its successful hatching.  Should they remain, they will have to fend off attacks from behirs and a purple worm, but if they do the monarch offers to take them beyond the Hidden Moon.

Servants of Baphomet hate star monarchs for their resistance to maze effects and the hope and succor they offer to dreamers and the lost.  The demonic minotaur lord himself will sometimes send bull-horned fiendish magma dragons to snap up the moths and their charges.

In the asteroid port of Tenstone, a rabble of star monarchs is attacking passersby at random down at the Stardocks.  The star monarchs have been driven mad by psychic grubs courtesy of the Jet Needle, a cabal of night hags who see an opportunity to corner the market on dream travel and space travel in one fell swoop.

Inner Sea Bestiary 50

I should have mentioned yesterday that we covered the squid back when we covered its giant sibling.

In all Monday night’s craziness—Music video! Filmed! My office! Make one for yourself and you could perform in Vegas!—I forgot to upload this week’s radio show.  The file is only good till midnight so listen and download now!  Especially since it’s a triple feature: two hours of Virgin FreeFest artists (especially Vampire Weekend), celebrating the 20th anniversary of Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, and visits from more than 40 years of WMUCalumni.  Check it out.

(If the feed skips, load the file in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes or whatever player you like.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Star Archon

Star archons are the strategists of the Heavens.  They also pull a phoenix act when slain, exploding in a holy supernova before reincarnating as a shield archon.  Which may explain their gift for tactics—it becomes much easier to make the hard choices when the ultimate sacrifice isn’t so ultimate after all.  Of course, given the sheer artillery at their disposal (sun burst, prismatic ray, polar ray, implosion, fire storm, meteor swarm, destruction—the list goes on), it’s rare they have to make those choices in the first place.

A party’s ghaele ally reveals disturbing intelligence that a star archon general is collaborating with legion of devils.  Is this an alliance of convenience against a demonic threat?  Payment for an ancient debt?  Part of some far-reaching plot whose subtlety will only be revealed in time?  The hot-tempered azata wants answers, and wants the party to retrieve the star archon for an interview…by force if necessary.

Adventures hoping to petition a Power directly must first get past her gatekeepers, the final one of which is a star archon.  The archon dislikes the role of majordomo, and while her charge is to pose them challenges of logic and strategy, she will do her utmost to provoke them into a physical confrontation, allowing her to unleash her many destructive spells without guilt.

Daverel is a shield archon with a dark secret.  Once a star archon, he is lauded from the Caverns of Repose to the Six Sacred Jubilances for sacrificing himself at the Umbral Blot.  But while it took a mob of invidiaks to lay him low—all of whom died in his explosive rebirth—at least some of the envy inherent in the shadow demons’ frigid bites must have struck home.  Since his reincarnation, Davarel has been secretly obsessed with returning to his former glorious state.  He is convinced that he has found a ritual that will speed the process…but the source is a book so apocryphal (and the components so morally dubious) that the rite has been banned for millennia.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 32

Seems like a lot of you dig spriggans.  Speaking of which, cheers to uwtartarus for weighing in on a particularly memorable spriggan in his game. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Sprites are—wait.  What game are we playing?  And what edition?  Because with sprites, that matters.

Obligatory boring history paragraph: In “basic” D&D sprites were exceedingly peaceful faerie creatures that loved magic; they had to team up in groups of five just to level a curse.  In 2e AD&D the name referred to both sprites themselves and a class of faeries that included sprites, sea sprites, pixies, nixies, atomies, and grigs.  3e was less kind to them—sprites took a huge hit courtesy of 3.0/3.5’s fey purge, existing only as the umbrella name for pixies, nixies, and grigs.

But in Pathfinder, they’re back!  In their current incarnation, they’re primitive but luminous protectors of nature and symbols of the wild at play.  Like pixies, they are pranksters, both by habit and to lure threats away from their homes and sacred spots; many travelers who complain of being “pixy-led” should blame a sprite’s dancing lights instead.  Sprites are still described as loving magic as well, so their presence might hint at ancient dweomers and ley lines, and they make good familiars for more powerful chaotic neutral casters.  At CR 1/3, they’re not exactly a threat to anyone but the greenest adventurers, but that’s not the point—encountering a sprite doesn’t have to be the goal of the adventure; rather it’s the first sign that your adventure has begin in earnest…

No less than three tribes of sprites defend the Flame Maple—a great sprawling, spiraling maple whose leaves remain a fiery orange all year long.  The Firecaps and the Sweetsaps are generally peaceful, but encroaching goblin and bugbear threats have made the Barkshields militantly opposed to all humanoid passersby.

The Lithmarch is a trail of menhirs that stretches across the Heather Counties and into the Brewer Wood.  Sprites linger here, drawn to the ley lines the stones signify.  The sprites are cautious allies of the dour rangers who mind the Lithmarch, helping them drive off those who would use the stones to power necromantic or enchantment spells.  However, should a caster seek a familiar in the Lithmarch, a curious sprite will almost certainly answer (sometimes even ignoring the usual alignment restrictions in his or her eagerness to share in the magical bond).

The technomancer Velin Haas has hit upon a novel new form of illumination—the faerie filament—which he believes has more long-term potential than continual flame or costly permanent light effects.  Of course, trapping sprites in glass bulbs has its own complications.  Since the supposedly immortal fey turn shockingly mortal in captivity, he is always looking for adventurers who can find new sprite livestock until he cracks the longevity problem.  Meanwhile, the outraged sprites who have thus far eluded Hass are setting traps and hiring adventurers of their own…

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 256

Obviously, there’s more about sprites in Amanda Hamon’s chapter in Fey Revisited, including a CR 5 sprite swarm suitable for more experienced parties.  And this is the part of the post where I yet again tell you to dig through used bookstores and the backwaters of the Internet to find PC1 Tall Tales of the Wee Folk and Dragon Magazine #155—both must-reads for any faerie fan.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Modern fairy stories (and I’m especially including fairy films in this) have gotten really good at That Moment.  It’s That Moment when the fairy tale becomes a faerie plot.  That Moment when the trap is sprung.  That moment when the Pale Man awakens or the monster of the month transforms behind Hellboy’s back and attacks.

Spriggans are ideal for That Moment in your game.  They’re harmless, dirty gnomes—until they’re not little or harmless at all.

Why spriggans transform is up to you and your worldbuilding.  They’re practically fey, so transforming might just be what they do—likely as a result of some original sin or curse handed down by Oberon, Rhiannon, or another great power.  In Golarion, spriggans are gnomes who went too far in their efforts to rid themselves of the Bleaching.  Like trolls, spriggans might also be the link between gnome- or faeriekind and giantkind, with gnarled feet firmly planted in both worlds.  Or they might even be mutations, science experiments, alchemical super-soldiers, or just creatures of rage whose ire takes very physical form.

Davis Jagger is a bloodthirsty quickling who wants revenge on the sheriff who drove him out of Litchfield.  After a speedy (naturally) search of the local abandoned mines and barrows, he rounds up the Ox Mob Seven as his heavies.  These foul spriggans, known for the rings they wear through their noses, disguise themselves as gnomish tinkers to get into town. They wait until the gates are shut and locked for the night to set flame to the prison, the inn, and the summoning tower.

Adventurers travel through a strange fey dungeon, each room of which seems to be a puzzle—or a trap.  The second chamber features a half-dozen unkempt gnomes (actually spriggans) eating in grizzled silence around a dining room table, upon the surface of which has been carved, “Arrive and leave with grace.”  To successfully leave the room, the adventurers must sit at the empty seats and say grace or otherwise bless the food or the company.  Doing so repels the spriggans, who file out of the room, leaving the door open for the party to follow.  Otherwise, the spriggans continue eating and do not respond to any form of speech.  Anyone who samples the food without prayer is magically compelled to join the gnomes in their feast.  If anyone physically touches the spriggans or tries to force the locked door, the angry small folk howl in rage, swell in size, and attack.

Elephant graveyards are guarded by the mad-bone men, gnarled, ash-gray spriggans who ride on hyenas, play talking drums, and dine on the flesh of the fallen beasts.  They attack all who trespass on their land, swelling to giant size and fighting with ivory-studded greatclubs.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 257

Paizo clearly loves spriggans; they’ve shown up in everything from Adventure Paths to modules (with a stronger variant in Realm of the Fellnight Queen) to Gnomes of Golarion.  There’s even a mythical spriggan city mentioned in Heart of the Jungle.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spirit Oni

It’s no accident that so many evil wizards and especially sorcerers are portrayed wearing masks.  In many cases, the mask is more than just a carved object—it is the home of an evil spirit oni.

Without physical bodies of their own, oni’s forms tend to be twisted emulations of mortal creatures.  As the weakest and most cowardly oni, spirit oni don't even have the fortitude to manifest a bad physical copy; instead they inhabit masks specially prepared for them.  But—bitter, resentful creatures that they are—they immediately regret this lesser form, making them difficult servants who look to trade up to more powerful masters.

Spirit oni are a great way to give enemy low-level spellcasters a bit more magical and melee oomph (“That sorcerer you tied up?  His mask is alive and chewed him free.  And it bit your sorcerer on the way out for Charisma damage.”), and to further set them apart as having participated in rituals no PC would dare.  And since every culture and time period has masks, spirit oni can fit into almost any campaign.  Or if you’re feeling thematic, they might team up with other floating head monsters, including vargouilles, beheaded, sagaris, and penanggalens.

Blind Joppa is the only witness to a murder, and the tapestry of sounds and smells he reported to authorities leads only to conflicting dead ends.  Actually Blind Joppa himself is the murderer.  The blood sorcerer can see perfectly fine through his spirit oni familiar’s eyes, and his story is an out-and-out falsehood with his blindness being the perfect alibi.

The High Street Harlequins are a louche band of bards and players given to absinthe and spreading rumors of their own devil worship.  But the head Harlequin, the Masked Butler, is no actor—he really is a diabolist who specializea in capturing minor (size Small or smaller) fiendish creatures.  His personal effects are guarded by a rack of spirit oni disguised as commedia dell’arte masks.

There is a willow tree outside of town that is avoided by all the locals.  There masks said to be the death masks of evil men flit about the boughs like birds.  The masks are free-willed spirit oni tired of serving mortal masters but too afraid to pay the high cost of reincarnation.  Usually they prey on lone travelers, but they occasionally will cast commune if they are allowed to lap at fine rice wine or an open wound or sore.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 209

Edit: Thanks for your patience.  The day this entry was supposed to go up was rather busy.  Original post: 

Sigh.  From G through R I had pretty much a perfect attendance record, but S is killing me.  So no spirit oni today.

At least I have a good excuse—not only am I on Hour 14 (and counting) of my workday today, but there’s a music video being filmed outside my office.  And I mean right outside my office.

Speaking of which…do you have a band?  Do you like Walk off the Earth or John Legend?  Do you want to perform with them?  You might want to click here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Spirit Naga

In many cultures there are (or at least were) certain professions or castes that were considered something other than human.  Blacksmiths, midwives, ragpickers, and especially gravediggers were considered to live with one foot in another realm—sometimes the divine, more often a place of pollution and danger.

I imagine that spirit nagas are like that—creatures with one coil in another realm…dark (or even guardian) nagas who let the dark take them too far.  And now they are outcasts from even naga society, let alone that of men and humanoids.  Instead of guarding, ruling, or abiding, they lurk.  They haunt graveyards and ruins, commune with fell powers, and otherwise exist in a world of corruption and decay, dwelling at the cusp of life and death.

In game, they’re nasty obstacles on their own.  (Charming gaze plus venom plus fireball, with displacement making them hard to hit…and they get cleric spells as arcane spells, which means free healing!)  But they also make great allies for the other monsters…and because of their liminal natures, need little excuse to do so.  Have them round out a hag coven.  Have them bolster cultists of the Great Old Ones.  Have them rule over weaker reptilians like lizardfolk and serve stronger ones like dragons.  When oni invade your Western RPG, I imagine spirit nagas will be the first to recognize these otherworldly monsters…and the first to throw their lots in with them.  In other words, if there’s a dark plot in the works that involves powers few understand, a spirit naga could be slithering in the shadows.

I’m even (as if I haven’t suggested this before) in favor of cheating a little bit for flavor reasons.  Maybe the spirit nagas in your campaign can see haunts or detect oni or shapechangers or speak with certain kinds of spirits.  Nothing major or game-changing…just enough to be spoooooky on top of being evil.  On a more practical, combat encounter-oriented level, maybe instead of the arcane and clerical spell list, you use the arcane and witch spell lists.  Or you load your spirit naga NPC with spells you haven’t let the players use yet from a new supplement (or even from a 3.5 book like Book of Vile Darkness).  After all, these creatures became outcasts for a reason.  One assumes they got something quite deadly for their troubles…

A party member’s cousin is abducted into the Ethereal, but she lacks the resources to travel there herself.  There is one portal to the foggy spirit plane near a certain nearby mass grave, but it is guarded by a spirit naga and her enthralled nagaji servants.

Strange masks and swords from the East have begun arriving at the trade city of Beth Tahir.  The masks are becoming quite fashionable, which means they’re working according to plan…because the presence of these masks makes it easier to attract and bind spirit oni.  A nest of spirit nagas is responsible.  They hope to lure more oni to the city and benefit from the chaos and bloodshed such an influx will cause.

People are not dying in the town of Evenheart.  The hover near death, sometimes in excruciating pain.  Investigation by the Temple’s Hands reveals that the duly appointed psychopomps are not reaching Evenheart.  They are being lured away and magically caged by a strange pseudo-coven comprised of a night hag, a changeling sorceress with the karmic bloodline (see Ultimate Magic), and a spirit naga attended by will-o’-wisps.

Pathfinder Bestiary 213

My first exposure to a spirit naga was the sidekick of a Red Wizard in the pages of Red Magic, from the Forgotten Realms Harpers series.  Man, 7th-grade me loved those books.

Obligatory shout-out to Serpent Kingdoms, my go-to book an all things naga- and reptile-related.  I love that book (here’s how much) and urge it on everyone, system and edition be damned.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Spider Eater

You never feel sadder for a spider than when you’re watching one of those nature films where a wasp paralyzes a tarantula and then lays eggs in it—eggs destined to hatch into grubs that devour the spider alive.  The spider eater is that wasp for giant spiders…and for humanoids if the pickings are slim, courtesy of its paralyzing poison.  Worse yet, the spider eater is a dimly intelligent magical beast, not vermin.  Careless PCs should beware…

An alchemist seeks spider eater organs as stock for freedom of movement ointments.  Finding a brood of them means going into the chaparral, where they must face not only spider eaters but also giant spiders, great desert owls (treat as giant eagles), and magical cacti whose sleep venom spines are as much a threat as the spider eaters’ stings.

Araneas hate spider eaters, for obvious reasons.  An aranea wizard hires adventurers to wipe out spider eaters near his tower.  However, the paranoid aranea assumes that anyone injured or paralyzed by the spider is a potential host.  If anyone in the party returns wounded the spider-mage wastes no time with healing or clerical magic—it attacks them immediately to ensure no new spider eaters are hatched.

Serfs who flee the devil-worshipping land of Corrus often seek refuge in the Orbwood, preferring the threat of spider fangs to the lash.  The border town of Hornet Glade has come to an unusual accommodation, living openly with spider eater allies who nest in abandoned barns on the edge of town.  The spider eaters keep Hornet Glade safe from arachnid incursions, but the price they charge—a dozen victims a month, usually new refugees or tradesfolk—will seem too high to most adventuring visitors.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 255

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Okay, we are not going to talk about sphinx sex.  Got it?  No sphinx sex.  Too much has been written about sphinx sex already.  Seriously, the Bestiary entries (and (A)D&D’s Monster Manuals before them) read like fanfic.  Which is all well and good—there are places for that—but sphinx mating habits should take up a paragraph, not pages and pages.  (Except maybe in this rulebook.)

(For the record, my thoughts on sphinx sex live here, and that is my last word on the subject.  Weitere Diskussion über Sphinx Paarungsverhalten ist hier verboten.)

What I find interesting about gynosphinxes is that they’re ludicrous.  Not their bodies—in a world of owlbears, who are we to criticize?—but their minds.  Here we have creatures whose central obsession is posing and solving riddles and puzzles in the wilderness.  (Not that this is atypical in mythology—intelligent trolls and fey are famous for it—but they are usually tricked or cajoled into riddle games, not defined by it the way sphinxes are.)  Surely the intellectually voracious cat-women would be happier closer to civilization…but they can’t because they’re too territorial.  And then there’s that whole (sigh…if we must) sex obsession thing (on the part of gynosphinxes)—only the objects of their lust, androsphinxes, feel demeaned by such earthly and earthy desires, actively working to sublimate their own passions and minimize such encounters.

I don’t know about you all, but to me this sounds familiar.

Sure, there are lots of other ways to play sphinxes.  As stern sentinels, perhaps.  As amateur archeologists and astronomers.  As tradition-obsessed riddlers.  As territorial, unpredictable hunters who toy via riddles the way a cat toys with a mouse.  They’re all valid.  (I’d especially like to see people play more with the sphinxes’ skill with magical symbols, for instance.)  But for my money, sphinxes are The Big Bang Theory-esque obsessives whose very intellects and tics distance them from the world around them.  They are thus caught halfway between civilization and wilderness, scholar and predator, this age and the last.  They pose riddles, games, logic exercises, and other trivia questions because their natures drive them to…and because they don’t know any other way to interact.  Not one of them would ever admit it, but the one riddle a sphinx cannot solve is herself.

The hypergraphic sphinx Slash scribbles obsessively on the cliff sides of the Kerr Desert.  He poses no riddles to travelers—that would distract from his nervous claw carvings—and his writing yields little of interest to most observers.  Unfortunately, he also laces his work with magical symbols.  Should a party of adventurers inadvertently set off one of the symbols, Slash will immediately attack them in a rage for “ruining” his work.

Mellora Tawnywing is a sphinx known to head a pride of maftets.  She finds their religious awe of the ruined hippodrome they guard tiresome, but she treasures the cat-women’s company and treats their enemies as her own.  Occasionally she shows leniency toward anyone who can beat her in a game—she prefers ancient styles of chess or quoits—but the glee with which she eviscerates those the maftets deem heretics has earned her a well-deserved dark reputation.

The arrival of a mother-daughter pair of sphinxes to the gnome flying city of Dokkerstad was originally cause for celebration—the scrolls and books they carried with them in their satchels of holding were the beginnings of the flying city’s library.  However, both have recently descended into territorial fits.  The daughter now refuses to let anyone enter the library she helped found, and the mother has claimed a block of engine compartments that, if left untended by the maintenance gnomes, could seize up any day now…dropping the entire city out of the sky.

Pathfinder Bestiary 257

Part of “basic” D&D’s Creature Crucible series, PC2 Top Ballista actually presented sphinxes as PCs (this being D&D, race and class were the same thing).  Dokkerstad above owes its inspiration to that book’s bizarre aerial city of Serraine.

Props to Jonathan H. Keith for his take on sphinxes in Mythological Monsters Revisited.  Also, I have to point out that Bento Box Studios’ illustration of the sphinx in the Bestiary is textbook harpy syndrome.

Meanwhile regarding specters, syringesin left a comment that he had never given thought to undead librarians.  Having worked in libraries from seventh grade through grad school, I can assure you I’ve never given thought to live ones.

Finally, hey, did I mention yesterday I had a really good day?  Because I had a really good day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spellscar Fext

It’s been a while—too long, in fact—since we’ve talked about using monsters to help give shape to a setting in the weird fantasy genre (something along the lines of China Miéville’s Bas-Lag or Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris, if “weird fantasy” isn’t a term you throw around a lot).

The Spellscar fext, created by Patrick Renie for the Inner Sea Bestiary, is a monster readymade for such a role.  While the Spellscar Desert may be a Golarion-specific locale, you can easily imagine fexts arising in Eberron’s Mournland or Bas-Lag’s Cacotopic Stain (or even Toril’s wild magic zones, to pick a more standard high fantasy locale).  Fexts work great in steampunk and alternate history fantasy settings as well—they might be the result of industrial or magitechnological pollution…or even nuclear waste!  The point is, anywhere magic has gone wrong can be a home for fexts…and their twisted forms and resistance to all but cold iron and glass make them memorable encounters.  A borderland where all the toughs carry weapons made of glass is going to stand out for players the way Dune’s Sietch Tabr does with its crysknife bearing Fremen.

By the way, I wracked my brain trying to think of what “fext” might mean—maybe a portmanteau of “fetch” and “vexed,” I thought—but I’d basically written it off as an entry in the “I dunno; it just sounded cool” school of monster design.  Turns out I was maligning Mr. Renie quite unfairly—fexts spring from Slavic folklore, complete with their vulnerability to glass.  Supposedly many enemy generals from the various wars of that era (the 17th century, to be precise) were even suspected to be fexts, as they seemed mysteriously unkillable.  So while the average fext may be an Int 8 brute, an exceptional specimen (particularly one with class levels) could even serve as an enemy commander—one that PCs have a devil of a time taking down…

After the Vargouille Plague of last summer and this spring’s Mushroom Uprising, the transdimensional dye-making city of Mauveine deserves a break.  But when a crystal zeppelin from the Demiplane of Wild Magic crashes into the Narrows District, the militia needs every hand it can get to drive off the Splinter fexts.

Caught between the fexts of the Spellblast Wastes and the yrthaks of Sentinel Pass, the outriders of Pelm must come prepared for anything.  They shoulder rifles loaded with glass bullets, backed by cold-iron tipped harpoons and weighted nets as insurance in case a yrthak’s sonic lance shatters their ammunition.  They are always hiring; ask at the Sign of the Twisted Relic for Jordin Teal or Fatty the xorn.

Grand Marshal Leopold Fox is famous for much: his military acumen, his resolve in the face of danger, and his survival despite seven assassination attempts so far.  Other details also set him apart, but only to the close observer—his ashen pallor…his diamond-hard skin…and the hand he keeps permanently tucked between the buttons of his coat, supposedly to hide a war-mangled limb.  In reality he hides a clump of cerulean tentacles.  The grand marshal is a free-willed, intelligent fext, his medals and victories concealing the fact that he died in a netherbombing on the eve of his first battle—which was decades ago…

Inner Sea Bestiary 49

Monday, September 16, 2013


The spectre is one of the classic undead.  For old-school fans of the world’s oldest role-playing game, they were mostly memorable for combining the threat of incorporeality with a nasty 2-level energy drain attack.  Beyond that, though, there wasn’t a whole much to differentiate them from other similar threats like wraiths.

In Pathfinder, what sets them apart is a single emotion: hate.  It’s gestured to in the Bestiary, but I have to give credit to Brandon Hodge in Undead Revisited for nicely teasing out the difference between them and the rest of the spectral dead.  Other undead hunger, mourn, lament, obsess, and so on.  Spectres hate.  They hate so much that they don’t go on to the afterlife—they return as spirits to hate and hate and hate some more.  Then they seek out victims to turn into spawn and join them in their rage.

The good(?) news is that because spectres are so-fueled by hate, they don’t get lost in undeath the way other spirits do; they largely retain their faculties and sense of selves.  Which makes them interesting personalities for you as the GM to role-play, and useful sources of information on bygone times for PCs…if they can get past the whole murderous rage thing.

Spectres’ unnatural aura makes for a nice flavor element—you should definitely give animal companions and familiars a chance to freak out if you can—as does their sunlight powerlessness.  In fact, it’s fortunate that spectres are bound by the place of their death and the distance they can travel before dawn.  Otherwise, who knows how far their hate might take them…?

Zeno of the Burning Brand is twice cursed.  In life, his severe Sinburner sect lost its schismatic war with the more benevolent main branch of the sun god’s worship.  His hate for the soft, city-dwelling Sun Children brought him back as a spectre…and now every dawn he must flee from the fiery gaze of the unforgiving deity he so loved.

V’ss’takl is a serpentfolk warrior who longs to devour the soul of every manling on the planet.  Unfortunately, he is bound to what is left of his earthly remains: the sword that lies where his body (now long decomposed) fell. V’ss’takl has recently hatched a new scheme: He plans to force a wizard to enchant the blade as a ghost touch weapon so that he will be free to roam at will and build an army of undead.

Librarians who persist into the afterlife tend to return in reliable ways—as ghosts, mourning a lost work or unfinished task…as huecuvas, whose browsing of forbidden codices led them off the path of faith…or as allips, the babbling forlorn suicides born of loneliness or madness.  However, Jephrias Mull is all about revenge.  A frustrated author crushed under the unsold tomes he spent his life savings having copied, Mull has returned as a spectre, turning the head librarian and catalogers who snubbed his stilted prose into his first spawn.

Pathfinder Bestiary 256

My first DJ name—courtesy of a James Bond-loving cohost—was S.P.E.C.T.R.E: “Scary, Patchen Even Controls the Transmission of Radio Entertainment.”

Hell yeah I used it.  Names like that don’t fall from the sky every day.

Speaking of which, we interrupt this monster-focused blog to bring you…new music!  Two hours of mostly new songs, which all happen to be perfect for this cloudy, mellow Monday. I also managed to sneak in that new Moby/Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips) track and a nod to In Utero’s 20th anniversary.  Download (and enjoy) it!

(FYI, I was a hair late to the station on Saturday, so the music starts about four minutes into the file—feel free to fast-forward a lil bit. For best results, Save As an mp3 and enjoy in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 9/20, at midnight.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sovereign Dragon

Sovereign dragons, the mightiest of the imperial dragons, are all about balance—lordly creatures that sit at the fulcrum point of history and guard against the fortunes of war, technology, or philosophy tipping the scales too far to any one side.

(Speaking of which, the power of sovereign dragons is likely to be a bit of an existential rebuke to metallic dragons and the forces of good, who are used to their side at least having the upper hand in terms of stat blocks (gold dragons vs. red, solars vs. pit fiends and balors, etc.), if not numbers.  To have such powerful neutral beings remain skeptical of the value of their grand benevolence must be highly aggravating.)

Give their lofty perches and remote throne rooms, sovereign dragons aren’t likely to interact with PCs on a regular basis—your average adventurer is simply beneath their notice.  But when they do, they’re likely to drive your PCs nuts.  Sovereign dragons’ powers are all weighted toward avoiding extremes (detect evil/good, dogmatic discordance, calm emotions, etc.) or frustrating action (calm emotions again, golden armor, master counterspelling, violent retort, moment of prescience, and so forth).  Even their sonic breath weapon and prismatic spray seem calculated to knock out all assailants equally.

If sovereign dragons have a flaw, it’s that they’re far too invested in the status quo, and their natural hesitancy is so profound as to almost be a gravitation force.  When they do act, it should be as if heaven and earth is moving into alignment, bringing the divine judgment of the gods, the sun, the moon, and the stars all bearing down on those who have upset the natural order of existence.

Long tormented by an autocratic governor, a cell of rebellious peasants abduct a very young sovereign dragon.  They hope to convince it that aiding their revolt will serve the Balance.  Meanwhile the young dragon’s mother is beside herself with worry and wounded pride.

A sovereign dragon leads a team of proteans and entropic chimeras to destroy an axiomite mathematicyst.

The golden-armored paladins of St. Crucien are stunned to discover that the wizened dragon matriarch who has been their sponsor for so many generations is no gold dragon at all, but a sovereign dragon.  Worse yet, while she has rallied them to snuff out evil and chaos, she has also at times allowed and even encouraged rebellion, lawlessness, and wickedness behind their backs so that the Balance would be maintained.  This revelation causes a schism among knights who want to continue the sovereign dragon’s mission, knights who seek to convert her to the side of good and order, and knights who wish to put the wyrm to the sword.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 100-101